Iran's Oceanic Potentialities: Challenges and Opportunities

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Bahram Amir Ahmadian
Adjunct Professor; University of Tehran

As a stable country in the restive Middle East region, Iran enjoys a good position to play a better role in the region. Iran is located at the best geographical position, which is similar to a crossroads. The country would be able to promote this geographical position to a geopolitical one if it could convince eight landlocked countries in Central Asia (including five former Soviet Union republics), Afghanistan (in east) and countries in Caucasus (Azerbaijan and Armenia) to use its geographical space, tie their economies to Iran's economy, take their pipelines through Iran, and also take advantage of the Islamic Republic’s transportation networks.

At the present time, Iran's land transportation networks, including road and rail, as well as air and sea transport modalities enjoy suitable infrastructure and one can even claim that they have no parallel elsewhere in the region. Development of Iran's southeastern Chabahar port and the eastern rail network will further turn the Islamic Republic into a powerful country. Vacant capacities of Iranian ports as well as vacant capacities of the country’s commercial marine fleet offer the Islamic Republic with a good opportunity to obtain a better position in this regard in the world. Of course, taking advantage of these capacities would not be possible in the absence of adequate increase in the social capital. Boosting the national defense moral, encouraging people’s participation in making political decisions and increasing people’s willingness to serve their country are requisites for economic development of Iran. On the other hand, creating a suitable political atmosphere at international level to help Iran play its global role and fulfill its international commitments, and cooperation of all domestic forces for the implementation of Iran's nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will clear the way for further development of the country and help it attain its desirable position in the world.

Important developments are going on around Iran and attention or inattention to these developments can have profound effects on the future of the country. In its immediate periphery, Iran is a member of a regional cooperation agreement, known as the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which currently has ten members. Of course, this cooperation organization has not been very successful in achieving its goals and since economies of member countries are not complementary, less than 10 percent of their foreign trade is carried out among ECO member states and the rest is conducted with countries outside the region.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which includes the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan; the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative; and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), all of whom are located within continental geostrategic realm of the Cold War era, make outlooks for decision-making in Iran difficult. While Iran can be a country with the best and the most extensive access to free waters, it must not simply focus on inland potentialities. The future of Iran can be better determined through interaction with the European Union and East Asia where the capital and technology that Iran needs are available. Despite its many capabilities, the Eurasian Economic Union is also characterized with major weaknesses, the most important of which include lack of sufficient capital; an economy, which is dependent on energy exports; the need to import various kinds of technology, especially high technology; and the fact that economies of its member states are not complementary. As a result, the union is facing serious challenges for covering the needs of its members within the union.

Iran's membership at the EAEU or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which are opposed to the European Union, will restrict the country’s access to the most important economic markets of the world in the future. Russia is not willing to allow Iran enter the European equations and also reserves the right to have monopoly on the European energy market. Iran has 2,040 kilometers of coastal line along its south, which allow the country to be strongly present in the Indian Ocean. The country can cooperate with member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the EAEU without being a member of those organizations. By taking advantage of Iran's geographical space, those countries can get access to free waters while through Iran's territory they would be able to make the most of its transit potentialities, which will finally promote Iran's position in the region. The Islamic Republic can also provide the closest and the less expensive route for connecting the member states of the EAEU and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the free waters located to its south.

Iran can provide these two unions with a suitable corridor to reach free waters without being member of either of them. This point must be also remembered that Russia and China are not willing for the Islamic world and Iran to become powerful, because in that case, they will lose their hegemony in geopolitical regions around them. Therefore, by having various components of power, Iran must not apply for membership at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and must even impose sanctions against that union because of its inattention to Iran's numerous membership requests. In fact, India, China and Russia want to turn the Islamic world into a subsystem and take advantage of it in order to meet their interests. Therefore, if Iran becomes a member of those unions, it would have to follow those countries. In fact, Iran must try to take advantage of its very good potentialities and turn into an independent geopolitical realm.

At present, according to reports by international energy giants, including the BP, Iran ranks first among world countries in terms of proven gas reserves, thus overtaking Russia, which was previously thought to have the biggest gas reserves in the world. As a result, the country is sure to boost its effort to attract European investors in order to speed up gas extraction as well as construction of a natural gas pipeline for exports to Europe, which will greatly increase the country’s power. Iran's Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei had warned the European states a few months ahead of the initiation of nuclear talks between Tehran and the P5+1 group of countries that “Europe must not behave in a way that we would have to impose gas sanctions on them.” They understood the purpose of Iran's Leader sooner than Iranian organizations, because they knew that Russia was using gas exports to Europe as leverage to achieve its political goals. Now that Iran has been proven to have the biggest gas reserves in the world, they are trying to secure a foothold in the Iranian energy market.

Last but not least, Iran can assure Europe that steady flow of gas from the Islamic Republic to Europe will continue for decades into the future, and that the Iranian government pledges to remain committed to its obligations. Of course, due to their rivalry with Iran in this field, Russians are sure to resist Iran's presence in the European energy market.


More By Bahram Amir-Ahmadian:
*Developments in Eurasia Disturb Regional Peace and Stability
*A Meeting to Boost Relations among Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan: 
*Silk Road and China’s Initiative, an Important Opportunity to Boost Iran's Role:

*Photo Credit: VOJ

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.